Sharing my thoughts on software development

Friday, March 5, 2010

You don't need a publisher

I was talking to my imaginative friend Joe the other day, trying to figure out why there still hasn't been a good website to read novels. We were talking about why book publishers should release books online in this era of Internet, and it struck me, why was publishers needed in the first place?

Back in the days, book publishing was a huge task and no small entities (a.k.a. authors) can do it for themselves, and in order to reach a wider audience without devoting their life to marketing which many may not be good at, book publishers were necessary.In fact things haven't changed much since! Book publishing is still a tremendous effort, you have to get editors to review the book, get advertisers to market the book, get designers to do book design, get printing companies to print the book, then go through a chain of distribution to get the books to readers.

And the result of that? Authors don't make that much. According to this post from a New York Times best selling author, she made a staggering $24,517.36 on a book that sold for 61,663 copies, about 40 cents for every book that's sold for $7.99 at retail. That's very little, but considering the amount of work the publisher has to do, it is only fair. Or is it?

In a business partnership, each partner has to contribute value to the business and take his/her share of profit based on the contribution, it is not always easily measurable, but mostly fair or the partnership won't work. Let's take a look what publisher brings to the table, that warrant a 95% cut [1].

Editor Review
Editors are quite helpful as they check for spelling, grammar and logical errors,they also give some good advices to improve the book or edit it directly.

While authors can do a lot of the marketing themselves (and are increasingly required to), paid marketing campaign and advertisement still have their values. After all, who don't want to sell a few more books?

Printing and Distribution
These are normally done by separate companies. Printing and distribution is a lot of work, and book shelves are costly.

Publishers are indeed bringing a lot to the table in traditional publishing practice to warrant their share of profit. But things has changed! Advance in computer technology and the Internet has made a lot of things obsolete, including publishers, and here is why:

Editor Review
 Spell checkers will weed out most of the typos and simple errors. Some helpful readers or a fellow author could definitely be able to help to do the proofreading to find any logical errors. In fact the readers will feel delighted to have a sneak peek into your newest book, it's a privilege! And even if errors manage to loom into your book, you can always go back and fix it, a luxury you don't have with paper backs.

And what beats reader feedback on how to improve your book? After all, the definition of a good book is that people like it enough that they will buy it.

 Authors already do a lot of marketing these days, and with the help of Internet, self-promotion has not been easier! If you really think you need some professional marketing, no one can stop you from hiring a marketing company, and you get to decide whether that's worth it.

Printing and Distribution
 Need to say no more, distributing books online cost a fraction of traditional printing and distribution model. And there is always print-on-demand option for readers who prefer paperback.

[1] To publishers' defense, they do not take 95% of the sales, money goes to all parties involved in the process of publishing a book. But to an author, it doesn't make a difference where the money went.

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